Dec 26, 2007

The Guernsey Literary

I've just finished this delightful book. It was pleasant and interesting to read, but it would probably not be a good OC GEEZERS BOOK CLUB selection. For one thing it was in part a romance story and the club tends to prefer other things. But it is an excellent book.

When travelling in England years ago I met two ex:Brit paratroops who were both from the Island of Jersey. Together we took in the sights and along the way tested most of the neighborhood pubs we came across. It was more than 10 years after World War II but the bomb damage in London was still being cleared. Rubble and broken buildings were everywhere. My British pals had spent most of their lives on Jersey, and most of the war in North Africa. It was their first visit to London. Among other conversations they talked about their folks on Jersey. They were farm people and had seen terrible shortages and abuse during the German occupation. It was then that I learned Jersey, Guernsey, and the other Channel Islands had been occupied by Germany during the war.

Now (finally) back to the book. I saw the title and was curious. I was aware that Guernsey was occupied during the war, but I knew very little more. The book begins with letters to and from a quietly growing list of interesting characters. Ever so slowly the members of an odd book club become part of a larger story. The club was formed (almost accidentally) to fool the Germans. Soon it became an off and on again gathering for the members to innocently avoid the rules and regulations of the unwelcome occupiers.

It carries forward by means of a woman's correspondence with members of the book club. Along the way, rural and semi-rural life on the island of Guernsey under German occupation is beautifully described. It is a happy story - but it includes tragedy. It tells of several personal experiences with the holocaust. They are told from a slanted view that I've not encountered elsewhere. My bookshelves bend under the weight of holocaust literature, but this little book brought home the human impact with desperately described clarity.

This is a book about:
  • Intelligent and well grounded small town folks,
  • an off/on romantic interest,
  • the impact of the holocaust as seen by the islander's,
  • and the feelings of a small community occupied by unwelcome foreigners.

I found it to be one of the best reads this year.